Hotel, office conversion bill advances with deadline at hand

State-funded takeovers on track with legislative session ending Thursday

Sen. Michael Gianaris (Getty, iStock)
Sen. Michael Gianaris (Getty, iStock)

Over the past few months, New York elected officials and real estate groups have floated proposals to convert distressed hotel and office buildings into housing. Now one such plan, a government-funded program for nonprofits to take over properties and convert them into affordable housing, is poised to move forward.

The state Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would allow the state’s Housing Trust Fund corporation — the agency that administers housing vouchers and other federally funded programs — to finance the purchase and conversion of such properties. Nonprofits approved by the state would control the properties, which would be permanently affordable.

The state bill, sponsored by Sen. Michael Gianaris, was considered by the Assembly’s codes committee on Wednesday and is expected to head to a full vote before the end of session on Thursday.

Under the bill, dubbed the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act, at least 50 percent of converted units must be set aside for residents who experienced homelessness immediately before moving in. The properties would be dedicated to residents making an average of 50 percent and no more than 80 percent of the area median income.

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The latest version of this bill, amended Sunday, requires building service workers in the converted buildings to be paid prevailing wages — a win for the union 32BJ SEIU. Under city law, such wages must be paid at affordable housing developments that contain 120 units or more and have received city funding of $1 million or more.

The latest version also does not include the creation of a social housing fund, which had been added to the measure in a version printed in May. The fund would have accepted grants, gifts, bequests or loan authority to finance the Housing our Neighbors with Dignity Program.

The latest iteration gives nonprofits more flexibility in the housing model they choose, requiring a regulatory agreement with the state or local housing agency that the apartments will remain permanently affordable. The bill no longer explicitly mentions community land trusts or other long-term ground lease ownership structures as an option for nonprofits acquiring properties.

It also leaves out provisions inspired by a separate bill introduced by Sen. Brian Kavanagh, which provided a shortcut for certain hotel conversions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had initially proposed hotel and office conversions with some affordable housing as part of the state budget. That proposal was criticized by elected officials and housing advocates for overriding local zoning rules and not creating enough affordable housing. The state budget ultimately included $100 million for conversions of distressed commercial properties, without any specific rules attached.